Yankee, Go Home

This week marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Iraq. On Monday, tens of thousands of Iraqis turned out to celebrate – which, according to one U.S. official, was proof that "Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions." A U.S. military spokesperson proclaimed that Iraqis "could not have done this four years ago."

That’s the good news. The bad news is the Iraqis were also protesting the continued U.S. military occupation of their country. Crowds chanted, "No, no to America. Yes, yes to freedom," and "Occupiers should leave Iraq." According to one Shi’ite, "We do not want their liberation and their [U.S. military] presence. We tell them to get out of our land." A Shi’ite politician described the protests as a "call for liberation." And a Sunni politician claimed, "This demonstration is a friendly message to unite Iraqis on one common issue, and that is end of occupation." So while thankful to be free of Saddam’s brutal tyranny, Iraqis were also saying what they’ve been saying with increasing volume for the last four years: Yankee, go home.

Shortly after the fall of Baghdad, one Iraqi said, "We thank the Americans for getting rid of Saddam’s regime, but now Iraq must be run by Iraqis." The United States should have listened, because subsequent polls have consistently supported such sentiment:

  • A USA Today/Gallup poll in April 2004 showed that 71 percent of Iraqis viewed U.S. forces "mostly as occupiers" and 57 percent wanted those forces to "leave immediately."
  • A Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) poll conducted a month later showed that 82 percent of Iraqis disapproved of the U.S. military presence – and that was before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal came to light.
  • Not surprisingly, the first poll following the Abu Ghraib revelations showed that 92 percent of Iraqis viewed Coalition forces as occupiers, not liberators or peacekeepers.
  • A secret British Ministry of Defense poll in October 2005 (obtained and made public by the Sunday Telegraph) found that 82 percent of Iraqis were "strongly opposed" to the presence of Coalition troops and 45 percent felt attacks on foreign military forces were justified.
  • A November 2005 poll [.pdf] of Iraqis conducted by the Oxford Research Institute for a consortium of media outlets, including BBC and ABC News, found that 65 percent opposed "the presence of coalition forces in Iraq."
  • According to a confidential State Department report obtained by the Washington Post in September 2006, 65 percent of Iraqis in Baghdad wanted Coalition military forces to withdraw immediately.
  • A poll conducted in February and March 2007 [.pdf] by D3 Systems for the BBC, ABC News, ARD German TV, and USA Today showed that the percentage of Iraqis who opposed the presence of Coalition forces in their country increased from 51 percent in 2005 to 65 percent in 2006 to 78 percent in 2007.
  • And the United States has been presented with ample opportunities to declare victory and go home:

  • On the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003, standing beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner, President Bush confidently declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
  • In December 2003, Ambassador Paul Bremer – U.S. head of the CPA – exclaimed, "We got him!" to announce the capture of Saddam Hussein.
  • A permanent 275-member Iraqi National Assembly was elected in December 2005, initiating the formation of a new government and, in theory, a sovereign Iraq.
  • The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in June 2006.
  • Saddam Hussein was executed at the end of December 2006.
  • But instead of taking the opportunity to leave, the United States continues to linger in Iraq – with the Bush administration recently increasing troop levels by more than 20,000 soldiers. But a "surge" is not the answer. A larger force and a longer U.S. military presence reinforces widespread fears of an "infidel" war against Islam, which creates greater incentives for more Iraqis to join the ranks of the insurgency and more Muslims around the world to side with the radicals.

    Indeed, Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is using the U.S. military occupation as a rallying cry. In a recently issued statement, Sadr said, "You – the Iraqi army and police forces – don’t walk alongside the occupiers, because they are your archenemy" and "God has ordered you to be patient in front of your enemy, and to unify your efforts against them – not against the sons of Iraq." Incredibly, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (now considered an Independent, but previously one of the Democrats leading the headlong rush to war against Iraq) claims that Sadr is "acknowledging that the surge is working" because he is arguing against sectarian violence. Clearly, Lieberman has taken logic lessons from the Bush administration, which has at various times described increased violence in Iraq as an indication of progress.

    But Sadr and the insurgency (which, according to Vice President Cheney, was in its last throes in May 2005) are not threats to U.S. security. The only reason for maintaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq would be if that country were a safe haven for al-Qaeda, which it was not under Saddam Hussein’s rule and is not now. Since there was no need to invade Iraq in the first place, it is long past time to acknowledge that it is in the United States’ strategic interests to exit Iraq. Yet, according to President Bush, if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq,

    "The enemy that had done us harm would be embolden[ed]. They would have seen the mighty United States of America retreat before the job was done, which would enable them to better recruit. They have made it clear – they, being people like Osama bin Laden or Zawahiri – have made it clear they want to drive us from Iraq to establish safe haven in order to launch further attacks. In my judgment, defeat – leaving before the job was done, which I would call defeat – would make this United States of America at risk to further attack."

    What the president has never understood is that invading Iraq to rid the world of a phantom menace is what has emboldened the enemy who did us harm on 9/11. The unnecessary U.S. military presence in Iraq has enabled them to better recruit – and spawned a reverse franchise effect resulting in the Madrid and London terrorist bombings. And the longer we stay in Iraq, the more we risk the threat of terrorism on U.S. soil by giving Muslims around the world more reasons to hate America. It is paradoxical, but leaving Iraq is actually a prerequisite to, if not victory, at least avoiding defeat.

    But what about the president’s claim that Iraq will become a safe haven for al-Qaeda if the U.S. withdraws? Unlike the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it seems highly unlikely that Iraqis would welcome bin Laden and company with open arms. According to a September 2006 poll, 94 percent of Iraqis have an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda. As one would expect, nearly 100 percent of Iraq’s Shi’ite Arabs and Sunni Kurds have an unfavorable view of the Sunni Arab radical movement. But the vast majority of Sunni Arabs in Iraq – nearly 80 percent – also have an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda. Obviously, President Bush is true to his word that he doesn’t "pay attention to polls."

    Author: Charles V. Peña

    Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
    Policy Institute
    , an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.